(4 p.m. EDT) -- A single mother from San Diego, a former DJ from Las Vegas, an Italian-born immigrant whose love for cooking transpired as a child in his mother's kitchen: Every MasterChef contestant has a story to which fans can relate.
Perhaps Shaun O'Neale, winner of MasterChef's seventh season, put it best: "Because MasterChef does such an amazing job with telling our backgrounds, our stories and our history, people develop relationships with us -- and unknowingly to us, we have an effect on their lives."
O'Neale was one of three MasterChef stars Cruise Critic caught up with -- joined by Claudia Sandoval (season six winner) and Luca Manfe (season four winner) -- to learn more about the official MasterChef Cruise. The TV show's third annual sailing kicks off November 12, 2017, aboard Holland America's Eurodam. It will depart from Fort Lauderdale and visit St. Croix, Punta Cana, Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay, the line's private island in the Bahamas.
After chatting with some of the show's most loveable chefs, we compiled a list of three things fans might not expect on the MasterChef Cruise. (Note: Cabins for the upcoming cruise are still available.)
1. It's not staged -- seriously.
In line with the show's unscripted nature, the cruise keeps many details under wraps -- not just for the fans, but also for the celebrities.
"They give us a general understanding of what the schedule's going to be like, but when they say that there are surprises around every corner, there really are," said Sandoval. "Sometimes it's probably better that we don't know, because we might be like, 'I'm out!'"
She recounts one activity in which she and the other contestants were surprised to find out they had to make cupcakes with their hands behind their backs, adding that the cruise organizers tend to put spins on challenges to make them funnier.
2. You'll feel like you're on the show.
Activities on the MasterChef Cruises mirror those on the show, with fans having a chance to get in on the fun themselves. The next sailing will include Mystery Box Challenges, Pressure Tests, taste-test trivia and cooking competitions where cruisers compete against each other..
The majority of activities are included in the cruise fare, but fans do have the option to sign up for exclusive, limited-availability events, such as cooking demos and luncheons with their favorite chefs.
Said Manfe, "Some people come on the cruise and they want to hang out with Shaun, they love Claudia, some others like Luca, so you can decide [which activities you want to do]."
3. The "stars" might become lifelong friends.
A common theme we noticed after talking to all three MasterChef contestants was that the cruise is more than just an opportunity for fans to meet their favorites; it's a chance for them to see that the celebrities -- terms O'Neale, Sandoval and Manfe still have trouble embracing -- are real people.
"We're literally home cooks that went on a TV show and our lives changed," said Sandoval. She added by the end of the previous MasterChef Cruise, everyone felt like one big family. "You build this sense of comfort with [the fans] that they feel like they can just reach out to you and be like, 'Hey! You want to send me that recipe that we had on the cruise?'"
All three said they still keep in touch with fans from past cruises, whether that's chatting over the phone or getting together for coffee when one or the other is in town. Each also recalled special connections that stood out to them, some of which brought tears to their eyes.
"You really have no idea how much you touch people's lives until you're there talking to them, sharing your story and hearing their story," said O'Neale. "Every day I try to do more and more, so I can make these people proud of supporting me throughout my MasterChef journey."
--By Gina Kramer, Editor